Imagine for a moment, this situation. You wake up in the morning feeling dull and without any energy for the day. Lying in bed, you stare at the ceiling wondering if you should get up from bed at all. You take a quick look at your bedside and see a covered glass of water, and a box of pills. The box of pills read “DOSE”, an acronym for “Dopamine Oxytocin Serotonin Endorphins”. You take this pill and immediately feel refreshed and ready to face the day. You just had your daily dose of ‘Happy Hormones’ and are good to go. Wouldn’t this make life so much simpler? Unfortunately, no such ‘happy pill’ exist. But these Happy Hormones do and let’s take a look at them.
Happy Hormones – Your Daily DOSE of Happiness
Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter found in the brain. A neurotransmitter is responsible for sending signals from the end of one neuron to the next neuron in the line of signal transmissions. Dopamine is described as the ‘happy neurotransmitter’ as it is associated with pleasurable experiences. However, the real function of dopamine is involved in motivational behaviours, that is, the forces that act from within you that make you complete a particular task. Dopamine regulates this motivational behaviour; low levels of dopamine inhibit your actions whereas high levels of dopamine increase your ability to achieve something. The ‘go-getters’ in our society who will do anything to achieve something have been found to have high levels of dopamine whereas the ‘slackers’ or the ‘lazy people’ have been seen to have low levels of dopamine.
Dopamine also plays a role in other functions such as movement. When dopamine is not secreted or when there are low levels of dopamine, it is seen that patients with Parkinson’s Disease have difficulty in controlling their movements. When dopamine levels in the brain fluctuate, people with Schizophrenia face delusions and see hallucinations.
Now, we know just how important this Happy Hormone is and how its dysregulation can affect us.
Oxytocin is commonly known as the love hormone. This hormone is responsible for the instant love that a mother feels when she cuddles her child for the first time. This hormone is also responsible for the happiness you feel when you hug someone. Oxytocin is important for the formation of social bonds. People who have higher levels of oxytocin can let go of their fears. It is also a helpful hormone that makes people turn away from the usage of drugs. When you are in stressed conditions, the hormone ‘cortisol’ is released which is the stress hormone. In serene situations, oxytocin is released that helps to counteract the effects of cortisol. In this way, oxytocin also helps you relax and go to sleep. This hormone also helps you become more generous and selfless. It has been found that oxytocin can be used to relieve symptoms of anxiety disorders and eating disorders.
Just like dopamine, serotonin is also a neurotransmitter, but it is also found in various other parts of the body other than the brain. Most of the serotonin is produced by microbes present in your gut which is then transported towards the brain. Serotonin plays an important role in maintaining or circadian rhythm or the sleep-wake cycle. Serotonin also functions to help regulate mood. It is also involved in memory consolidation that is the process of making our memories more permanent. One of the major functions of serotonin is regulating your appetite and digestive activities.
Depression and an imbalance of serotonin are closely linked. People who are depressed use drugs which belong to a class called SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors that allow serotonin to linger around for a longer time and increase their activity.
Do you remember the feeling you have when you finish running a race or finish a dance performance? Your heart beats fast and a feeling of euphoria fills your body. This happens due to Endorphins. Endorphins are also called as ‘feel-good’ hormones. They work in the same way as ‘opioids’, a class of drugs work. They help us to block the sensation of pain. Morphine is a drug which belongs to the class of opioids and is often illegally used by drug abusers. However, it is also administered to patients who undergo a lot of pain, maybe after a surgery or during a severe illness. Endorphins give us the ‘runner’s high’ that makes us feel happy or excited after exercise.
Well, now that you know all about your happy hormones, you may wonder, if not by pills, is there any other way of acquiring these hormones?
10 Ways to boost your Happy Hormones
1. Regular exercise can help to boost your endorphins, that cause you to feel the ‘runner’s high’ or happiness that you feel while playing sports or running a race.
2. Protein-rich foods which have the amino acids tyrosine and tryptophan can be eaten to boost your dopamine and serotonin levels.
3. Hugging people, sharing your food, meditating and all other activities that will help you increase your bonding with other people help to increase your oxytocin levels.
4. Eating spicy foods cause a sensation of burning or pain in the region of your mouth or your tongue. Endorphins are released to block this sensation of pain. This is also one of the reasons why people love eating spicy foods.
5. Looking at happy objects, spending some time in the sun or looking at bright yellow colours can help you boost your dopamine and serotonin levels. Seasonal Affective Disorders, which causes your mood to change according to the weather, for example, you feel dull on a cloudy rainy day, is because the reduced exposure to sunlight has not let your serotonin levels be high.
6. Eating chocolate can help you boost your happy hormones, but remember, anything in excess is dangerous.
7. Involving yourself in creative activities such as painting or creating music can help you release your happy hormones.
8. Avoiding stressful activities can help you keep up your happy hormones.
9. Laughing (not only in laughter clubs) really helps in boosting many of your happy hormones.
10. Having a good 8-hour sleep will help you restore all your happy hormones and will prepare you for your next happy day.
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Saunri Dhodi Lobo is pursuing M.Sc in Life Sciences with specialization in Neurobiology. Her interests include writing poetry, going for nature walks and swimming. Currently she is involved in research on Alzheimer’s Disease in fruit flies.
Read all Articles by Saunri Dhodi Lobo